Things go unnoticed around here while we do the important stuff the singing praying sermonizing baptizing. We don’t read the instructions want to get on with it insert the batteries push the button watch the screen light up. Script stage directions steps one two three are all fine print we think, or don’t until we find ourselves at home watching rain soak the garden and notice that the screen has gone dark. When is it that we turn to face the back of the church? Do we stand or sit at the Psalm and is there anything at all about bowing as the cross makes its leisurely progress? What words are to be said while earth is cast upon the coffin and who was it after all who was supposed to meet the body
This was a gale that formed a fist, a punch turning into a full kick that almost sent me flying downhill. The Greek word translates as “a movement of air.” But this was karate; I loved the force of it, its full release and enthusiasm.
In my tedium, I wish I might keel over when that other spirit blows, or that that fierce, holy breath would fill me to almost-bursting, a red balloon buoyant with air, pressure inside and out, and no strings attached.
Wee Agnes Sawrey widdow & Dorothy Tyson Spinster do severally make oath yt ye Corps of Margaret Tyson of Gryzedale in the Parish above s’d beeing buryed the first of Aprill 1696 was not put in wrapt wound up or buryed in any shirt sheet shift or shroud mad or mingled with Flax Hemp or any Coffin lined wth cloth or any materiall but what is made of sheep wooll only according to a Late Act of Parliamt made for Burying in Woollen. In witness herof wee the saide Agnes Sawrey & Dorothy Tyson have sett our Hands & Seals. Aprilis, Ano Di 1696. —Parish document in St. Michael and All Angels Church, Hawkshead, Cumbria
In Norway when you die, they clothe you in a gown of purest white. Egyptians sucked out organs, layered presoaked linen strips around each desiccated limb. It matters what you wrap a body in.
I am one of the few that walk the footpaths on the fell today who put on wool against the sharp October air. The scattered sheep are unimpressed. Warming these hills with active tongues, they are unaware that Parliament, to buoy the trade, once ruled that only wool could be the spun and woven garment of the dead.
Agnes and Dorothy held to the law, picking softest weave of shift or sheet or shroud to lay against the body of their Margaret— like the Marys in the story, who laid his body out, washed and oiled, and put, wrapt, wound up, and buryèd each limb in swaddling clothes to match the ones his little body wore in Bethlehem—the cloth he wore to meet with life and fight with death— he who newborn slept among the shepherds and their silent, woolly sheep.
We fought for one more sputter of the old life. Even though a breeze passing over your sieve of skin could send you screaming, you muscled up your diaphragm to whisk more air into the fire.
I held my own terrors to my chest: failures and brush-offs, cancers and crashes, all the anxieties I had grown to love heaving and cracking like your ribcage until we both gave out.
Then there was the mess of prying us loose: wailing women and splintered lumber, flesh stubbornly sticking to the nails. But what swift hands, that Joseph of Arimathea, what purposeful footsteps crunching the ground!
He wrapped us in linen and spices. Only the hapless world could think of packing fifty pounds of aloe around a dead man’s wounds. But we drank it in like deserts until finally even the lizards scurried home.
I lay in the cave and wanted to touch you, but my hands were no longer mine. They closed in on themselves like daylilies. The stone rumbled over the window of light, and then our difficult rising began.